Peace of Mind

June 5, 2012
By , Wellesley, MA
Dirt has such a soothing color, calm brown, soft and loose. A gentle feel, always there, a comfort. It wielded easily to my spade, falling away, apart, and coming up as I scooped it, some tipping over the edge and landing gently on the ground, all scattered. So easy to manipulate and to scramble around. So simple to break apart into tiny pieces, small enough to barely exist. Was I a piece of dirt? A tiny particle, drifting around aimlessly, having been broken from my clump? What purpose did I have? My son was dead, and my wife had perished from despair. But the garden, my welcoming garden,was full of life- life that still had purpose. What a nice way it was to spend my broken existence. Caring for my trees, my flowers. Giving them the spark that I no longer possessed. Watching them thrive, my own children, though they could never, ever replace Odysseus. Wonderful Odysseus! My son! Gone for twenty years, never to return.
Footsteps echoed at my back. Who could it be? They weren’t watchful Dolius’ light, cautious steps, no- I would recognize those anywhere. These steps sounded like those of a man who had been through battle, a strong man, confident in his actions. Yet he halted; his footsteps silenced and he stood right outside the orchard, hesitant. He couldn’t be scared, not of me- not a frail, broken old man tending his garden. So why pause? Was the day finally here? Did they send an escort, a friend of my son’s to confirm my worst fears? He was dead. Gone. Never to return. Or maybe...
A steady thumping resumed as the man walked forward again. He halted centimeters from my back, looming over me even as my tree loomed over him. “What skill in tending a garden! Everything in perfect condition, not a fruit out of place! Nothing lacking the care it needs. Yet it seems that your plants are faring better than you! Already, you seem to be old, but dressed in rags as well? Your eyes reflect a rich youth. But indulge me, whose garden is this that you’re caring for? And I have to know, have I truly reached Ithaca? You see, the first person I asked couldn’t be bothered to tell me if I had reached the homeland of a man I had met a while back. Would you like to hear about him? I entertained him at my house, a peculiar foreign man, claiming to be from Ithaca, the son of a man named Laertes. So I took him in, treated him well, and gave him presents, as many as he chose.”
Laertes’ son. My son! Could it be? Had this man really met Odysseus? As an evening primrose gradually opens, spreading its curled-up petals wide to gracefully absorb the light of a full moon- so too did the word of my son cause my vanished hope slowly seep back into my heart and my mind, as a spreading warmth over my body. Tears slid down my face, wetting my cheeks. The weight of this discovery bore heavily on my shoulders. Could he be alive? The possibility made my heart quicken and my chest constrict. I choked out, “Stranger, this is indeed Ithaca, but what a shame. You came, sir, while it’s in the hands of barbarians, lawless men. And as for the gifts you gave your guest, gone to waste! Had he been here, he would’ve responded with hospitality, and shower you with gifts as well. An old custom, but alas! It cannot be so. But tell me, stranger, when did you last see this man- my son? Or did he never exist, just a figment of my mind, which is lost in grief. He’s such an unlucky man, who now, I grieve, is far from his homeland and his family. Swallowed by the fish, or beasts, in a place where no one, not even I, his father, could bury him. Nor could his wife, poor Penelope, who knows the man deserves to be laid down to rest. But enough of that. Tell me who you are, your parents, and homeland? How was your journey here? Where is your ship?”
This man had met my son, and had seen him in his journey. I needed to know, where had he come from, how far away? And how treacherous of a voyage? Could Odysseus have succeeded in it, too?
“I’ll tell you the whole thing. I come from a famous town called Roamer. I’m son of Unsparing, who in turn is son of the old King Pain. I go by Man of Strife. I came from Sicily, yes.” Sicily! That wasn’t too far away! If Odysseus had only left a small while ago, he might actually come home!
“But Odysseus, he left my homeland five years ago- I had hoped to meet him here.”
Five. Five whole years. He would be home by now! My son! My boy! Never. Never again would I see him! My strong Odysseus! Never would I ever again embrace him. I never bid him farewell! Never saw his achievements in the war. Never welcomed him back with the honor he deserved! Never. Never. Never... My breath caught in my throat, and I almost choked on my tears. It would be better if I did. Then I’d not to be forced to live with this grief, and instead be reunited with him in the underworld. My breath came out in jagged rasps, and my vision blurred as I shook from the impact. I was so lost in my own despair that I didn’t notice the man grabbing my shoulders, holding me in his arms, sobbing out, “Father! Don’t cry. Don’t despair! It is I, your son. I’m back from my twenty years at sea, at last!”
No, it couldn’t be. Odysseus? My Odysseus, not dead? Impossible! No, just a spell, trickery. My son would never deceive me like that; he'd never bring his poor father to tears. I struggled for air, for words, and finally managed, “Are you actually my son, finally returned home? Show me; give me some proof to be certain.” Still fighting for breath, I listened as he started.
“First, I have that scar from the boar’s tusk when you sent me and mother to visit grandfather on Parnassus, and collect the gifts he’d promised me.” His scar! Not many knew of his scar. But how easy it would be, to simply see it, and use it to deceive me. No, it wasn’t proof enough. I did not despair for twenty years to be fooled by a fact as simple as that.
He continued, eager to show who he was, but I would not be deluded. I would not allow my hopes to be raised only to have them crushed again. “When I was a little boy, I trailed you in this very orchard, and you named every tree in here! You told me to learn them well, and once I did, you gave me 23 trees and 40 figs, and promised more!”
A memory. That, no one could duplicate. Not with the excitement and the longing in this man’s voice. And for the first time, I looked into the stranger’s eyes. And saw a spark, a brightness that was unique to one man in all of the world.In an instant, my heart skipped a beat, and I found myself on the ground, as my knees couldn’t support the weight of this discovery. How could I ever give up on my son?! He would never leave me, no of course he wouldn’t. And I felt his arms around me, comforting and supporting, so I clung to him, weeping softly, but happily. Delirious with joy, I shouted to the world. I screamed, but only the gods knew what. How could I care? I had my son, alongside me.
And after years of pain, my tortured mind found itself at peace.

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